There’s something about extreme longevity that fascinates me, something competitive, like you are defeating time. You have to have focus, drive… and the luck to withstand all the pitfalls that life throws at you in your 80s, 90’s and even 100s.
There is something equally captivating about skiing. Strapping two composite planks to your feet and schussing at high speeds down a snow-filled mountain exhilarates the mind and body.
So when I first heard George Jedenoff’s story, I was thrilled. This guy is living the dream, still skiing—pretty damn well—as he hits the century mark. This northern California native skis the Wasatch Mountains of Alta and Snowbird, Utah every year. And people at Ski Utah have found his story so inspiring, they began documenting it with movies. Last year’s film, Happiness, was honored at the recent Wasatch Mountain Film Fest.
Just last month, Jedenoff celebrated his 100th birthday by skiing with his Ski Utah friends at Snowbird. I caught up with him to learn more of his inspiring story—and find out how skiing has helped him survive and thrive…
“I’ve had a whole other career but skiing has stayed with me. All the rest of it is gone and forgotten. It’s the way life is. You take what you get. Don’t belabor the problems that you’ve got. Just do what you can.”
In one of the Ski Utah videos, you mention that beginning to ski in your 40s was one of the smartest decisions you’ve ever made. Why?
Had I not started at that age, I wouldn’t have gained all the pleasure that I have had. The fact that I did gave me the excitement for these years.
What role has skiing played in your longevity? How does it motivate you?
It encouraged me to exercise and without my daily exercise routine, I don’t think I would’ve lasted this long. It’s something to look forward to. I only ski about two or three days a season now. I still want to be able to handle those two or three days, and that encourages me to continue my program.
You have spoken about the connection between staying in shape and still being able to ski, what is your exercise program like?
It’s a little bit of everything. It’s mostly to exercise my legs, back and stomach. Those are the fundamentals for skiing. It isn’t the quality of the equipment, it’s the fact that you use it. Instead of barbells you can use cans of soup. It’s something to resist your action. I don’t do any of these things for a long time. I don’t know if experts tell you if that works but, what the hell, it works for me. When I feel tired, I go just a little bit longer and stop.
I do a lot of stretching. For skiing, I do ankle and knee work. A forward lean. Leaning forward and down so that you can get your quads to start hurting. I have an elliptical machine that a friend of mine gave me. I do about 20-30 revolutions and your quads start complaining after 10. That’s wonderful for skiing. I also have one of those elastic bands that sticks in your door jamb. You can get a real workout for your upper body with that. I’ve got a regular step machine too. Oh yeah, a neighbor of mine bought a Nordic Track, one of the old ones with the oak. He was going to throw it away and asked me if I wanted it, so I said “sure.” I use that every day.
I picked up things in the military, high school and reading things and what other people say and put them all together. The idea is to keep going. I have a deck by my house and then several times a week I run around that thing. It’s about a quarter mile. I go and when I start breathing heavy, I stop. I don’t a want to get a heart attack. The important thing is that you do it. The secret is that you have to make it part of your routine. Just like you brush your teeth and shave, and then I go down and do my routine and have my breakfast. You just feel better.
How does skiing bring enjoyment to your life and what role does that enjoyment play in you reaching the century mark?
It’s an event that I enjoy. I look forward to the challenge. It’s getting back to nature. It’s using the forces of nature, gravity. You put all those things together and it’s a challenge because every little turn is different. I don’t like packed slopes so much. I like to ski in areas where there are trees because the powder stays so much nicer. They say that I ski kind of fast on the packed slopes, but you don’t ski as fast in the powder, but it is tough on your legs. It’s totally getting away from the problems of the world. The fresh air in your lungs. It just makes you feel great.
What are some of your best tips to live a long and prosperous life?
Skiing helps me stay in shape and staying in shape leads to my longevity. Health challenges along the way have kept me alive and I’m grateful for it. I had lost about 40 pounds due to an illness and I was just skin and bones and I looked terrible in the mirror. That is when I intensified my exercise program. That has motivated me to get in shape. I watch what I eat. Don’t eat too much. Don’t eat greasy foods. Although I love desserts. I never pass those up. I don’t drink any alcohol any more. I never really drank too much anyway.
What role do your friends and family play in motivating you to keep going?
They’re doing a little more exercise watching me. They are very supportive. My son lives about three hours away and my daughter lives about 30 minutes away. I’ve got the four nicest grandkids and three great-grandsons with a great granddaughter to be born tomorrow. They are very supportive. You know, it’s interesting. Skiing is something that I enjoyed as a byproduct. I taught the kids and grandkids how to ski. I’ve had a whole other career but skiing has stayed with me. All the rest of it is gone and forgotten. It’s the way life is. You take what you get. Don’t belabor the problems that you’ve got. Just do what you can.
Describe for us your “powder philosophy” and the connection that it has to your positive attitude.
Powder is more challenging than a packed slope. Unless you are a skier you don’t know the difference between the two. The inner mountain snow in the Wasatch is a quality of snow all by itself. The philosophy is that you enjoy that and it just brightens your day. Again it’s the challenge.
My friend Junior Bounous, the great hall of fame skier who is 92, he and I have skied together for 51 years. He was head of the ski school at Snowbird until he retired. He’s in great shape. He’s encouraged me a lot and taught me a lot of technique to handle any kind of conditions in snow. One day, he and I were going down a packed slope and he says, “George, follow me,” and goes off to the side into a bunch of crud. I mean it was crud! I said, “Junior what are you doing? What are we going off here for?” He says, “All days aren’t going to be beautiful like this. All days aren’t going to have snow like this over here and are you going to sit there and mope about the fact that the ski conditions aren’t good today, or are you going to go out and learn how to handle this and enjoy it?”
So he showed me how to handle it and pretty soon I was going through it with no problem. That’s kind of a philosophical thing and powder is kind of the same. Powder is not easy to handle and it’s hard on your quads and you can get tired. But if you’re skiing right you don’t get tired. But I get tired (laughs).
What do you consider your best characteristic?
I never give up. And that’s my worst enemy. You’ve got to learn when to give up. Sometimes you’ve got to. The challenge is knowing to give up when you should. In most people, your strongest characteristic is your biggest enemy.
What are some of your fondest ski memories?
Twenty years ago on my 80th birthday I went with a group of guys and wives to New Zealand because July is their winter. On my exact birthday, July 5th, I went helicopter skiing and made four runs in the Arrowsmith Range, near Christchurch, New Zealand. It was a beautiful day and that was pretty exciting. But, I’ve had a lot of them. I went to Stanford and they had a group started by some professors that met every year and would go somewhere for a week or 10 days. I skied with them for 25 years and we skied all over Europe. We’ve just had a great deal of fellowship and wonderful friendly relations.
As you approach 100 years old, do you see skiing as more of an opportunity or a challenge?
A pleasure (laughs). A pleasure. I just wish that I could do it more often. I wouldn’t want to do it every day. There are other things in life that are too important. It’s like, you love dessert but you wouldn’t want to eat dessert all the time and nothing else. That’s what it really is. It’s dessert. It’s what you look forward to and a little of it goes a long way.